BuzzCut Debate: Microsoft's Newfound 'Openness'

Don and Lori MacVittie present opposing viewpoints in this BuzzCut. Who's team are you on?

August 26, 2002

4 Min Read
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Point: Be Skeptical, but Don't Dismiss It
Don MacVittie writes:
Microsoft recently announced changes to its licensing policies that supposedly will give end users, corporations and ISVs (independent software vendors) more options and opportunities. But this is primarily a continuation of what Microsoft is best at: PR without substance. Microsoft's changes have three components:

Microsoft will "expose" nearly 300 new APIs for ISVs to use. The vendor's use of the term expose is telling. In reality, it is exposing nothing. These APIs have been around -- Microsoft is now going to document them. This will improve Microsoft's image to the courts, but hackers and ISVs have known about these APIs. Tons of Web pages document APIs that Microsoft doesn't officially support.

Microsoft will let resellers replace portions of its "middleware" with competing products. But once you've destroyed the competition, who cares if resellers can distribute competing products? Will your organization run out and replace Internet Explorer? Not likely. It has become the standard thanks to Microsoft's past practices, and there is no longer a value proposition in replacing it unless you are replacing your entire desktop. I will not be so unforgiving as to say that past practices predict future behavior, but I will say that current practices predict future behavior. Dell recently announced that its agreement with Microsoft means it won't offer Linux desktops, nor will it offer desktops without an OS. The style of the coercion may have changed, but the coercion has not.

With the release of Windows XP Service Pack 1, end users will be able to substitute some desktop middleware. But offering an option is nowhere near the same as offering a usable option. If your users can comprehend replacing Microsoft's bundled software, this may be the best of the three components. Of course, it will have little impact on the enterprise, but it's designed to make us feel hopeful. Let's see if end users benefit from removing those "critical system components" that are "an integral part of the Windows operating system."

Do I see any good coming out of this? Only that the behemoth is moving in a positive direction. Microsoft is reaching a point at which its executives will have to choose between working with the rest of the world to forward software development, and fighting the rest of the world and retarding the growth of the software industry. Microsoft execs aren't stupid, so I predict they'll play along. As a matter of fact, I believe one day Windows will be a Window Manager bundled with FreeBSD or a variant of the open-source software. Microsoft has experience with FreeBSD, so this option would void any claims that Microsoft holds a monopoly on operating systems, and would let the vendor keep its code proprietary. Most important, this option fragments an ever-growing Linux market.Don't put too much weight into what Microsoft is giving up right before a judge rules it must, but take advantage of any changes that will help your organization improve service.

Counterpoint: It's Nothing New, and It's Just for Show

Lori MacVittie writes:
There's nothing new in Microsoft's newfound openness, and I'm less hopeful than Don that it will amount to anything that will benefit the enterprise. Microsoft is giving end users capabilities that are already available. Users can download Netscape, Opera or Mozilla. Users can download RealNetworks or QuickTime for multimedia. Users have choices. But, for the most part, they just don't care because Microsoft took care of them and told them they didn't need anything else.

Does anyone really believe that Dell, Gateway and Compaq will suddenly offer these "new" configuration options to the consumer? It's too much work and too costly for the OEM to customize the software in each machine that goes out the door, and end users are conditioned to accept what the OEM offers without question. Technical support is also an issue for OEMs and the enterprise. With a "standard" Microsoft desktop it's easy to train personnel and require a specific set of products to receive support. The possibility of a fractured user base using non-Microsoft products would be a nightmare for tech support staff."Open Microsoft"? The version of "open" that Microsoft is touting is akin to open membership in a highbrow country club. You can get in -- if you have the money and contacts. IT won't be affected by Microsoft's broken olive branch as IT rarely has to deal with components at the OS level, and we certainly don't want to support customized desktops. OEMs could be affected, but it's more likely the ones who might benefit from this move are third-party software developers offering products that compete with Microsoft.

Like users who have been hooked by their dealer, it's unlikely that consumers are interested in anything other than Microsoft pablum. This concession is designed only to make Microsoft appear as though it is playing nice.

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